Present trends in vitamin E research



Nearly after one century of research and thousands of publications, the physiological function(s) of vitamin E remain unclear. Available evidence suggests a role in cell homeostasis that occurs through the modulation of specific signaling pathways and genes involved in proliferative, metabolic, inflammatory, and antioxidant pathways. Vitamin E presence in the human body is under close metabolic control so that only α-tocopherol and, to a lower extent, γ-tocopherol are retained and delivered to tissues. Other vitamin E forms that are not retained in the body in significant amounts, exhibit responses in vitro that are different form those of α-tocopherol and may include tumor cell specific toxicity and apoptosis. These responses provide a therapeutic potential for these minor forms, either as such or metabolically modified, to produce bioactive metabolites. These cellular effects go beyond the properties of lipophilic antioxidant attributed to α-tocopherol particularly investigated for its alleged protective role in atherosclerosis or other oxidative stress conditions. Understanding signaling and gene expression effects of vitamin E could help assign a physiological role to this vitamin, which will be discussed in this review. Besides vitamin E signaling, attention will be given to tocotrienols as one of the emerging topics in vitamin E research and a critical re-examination of the most recent clinical trials will be provided together with the potential use of vitamin E in disease prevention and therapy.